Communication is important in all aspects of life. Communication is defined as a social behavior that involves two or more people interacting to exchange information (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012). Both verbal and non-verbal communication allows us to understand each other, learn from one another and work well together. Poor communication can splinter the best of teams, groups and organizations, despite their exceptional potential.
I belong to a local community group that focuses on a variety of social justice issues. For several years, we’ve worked on addressing issues that are directly affecting our community. At times, our goals might align with the goals of other organizations around us but at times our goals are very specific to our local community. Our membership is diverse, representing individuals from a variety of races, cultures, sexes, genders, age groups, abilities/disabilities, religions etc. During our last community event, we failed to reach a goal that involved a certain level of community participation which could negatively impact future outreach efforts. At a recent meeting, it was clear that our group was feeling overwhelmed and defeated. It was not a big surprise to walk into the last meeting and hear members raising their voices at each other. Emotions were running high and it showed.
I feel honored to be a part of such a large and diverse group that cares so much about our community, but I can’t help noticing that not everyone sees eye to eye. Everyone that is a part of our group has a cause near and dear to their heart, but we can only work on one thing at a time. The psychological perspective of communication posits that our own beliefs, perceptions and attitudes create conceptual filters that affect communication (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012). We can only process so much and in our organization, everyone is passionate about things that matter most to them. It seems that some people in our group be might be filtering out information that they deem to be unnecessary, using selective perception, which can cause misunderstandings.
Everyone in this group is genuinely concerned for our community. We have a set of clearly defined goals but a lack of cohesion in the way we plan to achieve those goals is contributing to internal group conflict. The good intentions are all there but some of us are just so focused on what we deem to be important that we don’t even realize we’re ignoring each other. There’s an irony to witnessing this happen in a social justice group. We are all supposed to be aware of each other’s needs and the needs of those in the community but right now, we can’t even communicate effectively.
As I sit and listen to what’s happening, I start thinking that maybe role ambiguity might be another issue creating a lack of cohesion in our group. Maybe no one is listening to or respecting each other’s views because of unclear expectations or roles. Intersender role conflict can also play a part in this as people continue to send contrasting messages to the group. Prior to the last unsuccessful community event, there was a miscommunication between several members that caused our event to remain unannounced to the community. There was also conflicting information in terms of scheduling which was only corrected 8 days before the event. While our group has a founder and co-founder, some people still take it upon themselves to relay information which plays a role in miscommunication.
Our group needs interventions and it’s never been so clear as it is now. Widmeyer and colleagues used the Group Environment Questionnaire (GEQ) to study the effect of group size on team cohesion (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012). This study showed that larger groups are prone to having trouble in coordination, which sounds a lot like our group. This study also showed that smaller groups experienced higher task cohesion. Perhaps, we can break up our large group of 42 people into smaller task force teams of about 6 people per task force. Each task force can focus on a specific cause which will allow members to focus on specific community concerns that they feel most aligned with. This can reduce conflict that is associated with people’s conceptual filters as each task force will be able to focus on their own methods to reach their own specified goals. We also need to get back to basics and clarify the role of each member. We need to make sure that each member of the group feels comfortable in their role and receives the support and training needed to fulfill their role. To reduce intersender role conflict we will utilize technology and have one program as the main point of communication so that the communication can be screened for accuracy.
It’s amazing how a lack of communication can escalate and impact a group in so many ways. It’s always important to sit back and listen to the interactions happening and try to understand what is happening. I was starting to feel overwhelmed myself after listening to everyone for a few minutes, but I had to shift my focus from what was being said by individuals to what was happening in the group dynamics to assess this situation. It’s not always easy to do because emotions can run high during times of conflict, but I do think that some of these interventions will prove to be helpful. I look forward to our next meeting and hope to apply these interventions to help our group succeed in helping the community.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 424 Lesson7: Organizational Life and Teams. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1973019/modules/items/25635703
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Los Angeles: Sage.